DISPATCH: Venice | Giuseppe Abate

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I first met Giuseppe Abate at a dinner gathering in Cannaregio, where, as we all waited for the food to be prepared, he was busy working on a small needlepoint of a dead bird. Between the room’s two long windows hung its partner, an equally-sized embroidery of a pistol. I think it was pink, or maybe orange. Either way, it was a friendly-looking pistol. After a handful of other group encounters, I finally had the chance to speak one-on-one with Giuseppe about his work one morning in Campo Santa Margherita.

The Campo, where the whole youth of Venice seems to assemble for drinks every evening, was completely empty except for a few shop owners. Settling in the back of an old bar, we were immediately talking about the exhibitions around town, collectively gushing over the delicate, gold-leafed “Slip of the Tongue” that Dahn Vo curated at Palazzo Grazzi. In contrast to this year’s famously heavy Venice Biennale, this show brought to the city a crucial sense of love and lightness — elements that are central to Giuseppe’ own work.

“If you watch news on television, everything is serious, and everything looks more or less is the same. But if you take that something serious—violent, even—and translate it into a lighter language, you give people the opportunity to look at that thing differently, and to reflect upon it further.”

Giuseppe is attracted to unquestioned things rendered strange, constructing little fables and ironic disasters in everyday scenes. Imagery in his work frequently refers to themes of violence and innocence, converging at times into a kind of silhouette from a twisted coming-of-age narrative. Formats also mimic objects from childhood, such as pop-ups and board games. References to children’s fairy tales and toys, or history lessons, for example, recall the acquisition of knowledge while challenging our understandings of one thing or another.

Pettirosso, 2015
Pettirosso, 2015

Flipping through his portfolio, Giuseppe showed me a cascade of killer clowns, debaucherous boy scouts, bloody historical scenes and myths, all executed with a certain candidness and material ease. One highlight was his mechanical sculpture titled 1400. When activated, a hand-drawn world map on a disc spins to occupy a spherical shape, collapsing the medieval conception of the earth’s flatness within the form of a normal globe. Handmade, imprecise rendering applied to an object iconically smooth and certain suggests the blind spots that remain even in modern cartography.

I’m not sure whether or not Giuseppe was simplifying his language for my foreign ears, but it’s unimportant– his ideas don’t need to hide behind a long letter of motivation. Through the rawness of forms and concepts, Giuseppe’s work seems to assert the importance of its approachability, offering new lines of thinking without any didacticism. Taken by the bold simplicity in Giuseppe’s work, I could have stayed much longer, learning more little quips and questions that he catches in observation. After the café, we passed Palazzetto Tito and walked in the direction of St. Mark’s, checking a few stores for the small oval frame Giuseppe needed for his (now finished) dead bird. No luck, but nice to retrace with confidence the zigzagging path that had thrown me for many loops a few weeks earlier, in the company of someone I met then.